Orlando City was about 120 seconds from its biggest win of the season only to see Abu -Danladi equalize deep in stoppage time in a 1-1 draw against Minnesota United in the Lions’ first trip to Allianz Field. Orlando (9-11-7, 34 points) got a second-half goal from the penalty spot from Nani and would have had a second penalty if Tesho Akindele had been a couple feet further from goal in the dying seconds, but the late goal from Danladi prevented the Loons (12-8-6, 42 points) from falling at home for just the second time all year.
In the midst of a four-match segment against some of the league’s top teams, Orlando could have used all three points against the Western Conference’s second-place team. But instead the Lions will have to try to build on another standout defensive performance and one of Brian Rowe’s best games of the year. However, the Lions stretched their current unbeaten streak to four games (2-0-2).
James O’Connor didn’t bring Chris Mueller on the trip but he did bring Mauricio Pereyra, who came on in the second half to make his MLS/Orlando City debut. The back line in front of Rowe remained the same as it was on Wednesday against Sporting Kansas City. Will Johnson and Sebas Mendez returned to the starting lineup, flanking Nani in the midfield. The forward line consisted of Benji Michel, Dom Dwyer, and Robinho.
Minnesota’s pressure was good in the first half, leading to several turnovers and the Lions played their part by being sloppy with the ball even when not under pressure. The Loons sent a warning shot off the crossbar four minutes in. Darwin Quintero, who was well offside, touched over to Ethan Finlay for a blast off the woodwork. The flag didn’t go up but video review likely would have overturned it had it gone in.
Four minutes later, Angelo Rodriguez scored but the flag was up for offside this time. The play looked close on replay but the Minnesota striker was just offside.
The Minnesota press forced the wings to play deeper and deeper and it isolated Dwyer up top. Any long balls to him were easily knocked away by Ike Opara and Michael Boxall.
Opara nodded wide of goal off a corner kick cross in the 13th minute and Jan Gregus fired wide from distance two minutes later as the Loons continued to probe for an opener. Rodriguez headed wide off a quick free kick after a handball outside the box on Kamal Miller in the 20th minute.
Rodriguez pulled up on a 2-v-2 break with an apparent hamstring injury and was replaced by Abu Danladi in the 28th minute.
A minute later, the Lions finally got their first shot attempt. Benji Miller broke to his right at the top of the area and sent one on goal but right at Vito Mannone, who made the easy save.
Rowe made an incredible save in the 30th minute to deny Quintero and keep the game scoreless.
Moments later, Finlay nutmegged Miller, rounded the rookie and smashed either a cross or a bad shot through the area and out for a throw.
Michel picked out Robinho with a cross in the 34th minute but hit it with so much pace that the Brazilian couldn’t get his shot anywhere near on frame after it took a hop in front of him.
A couple of shots wide by Quintero and Hassani Dotson finished off the first-half chances and the teams went to the locker room scoreless and the Lions were fortunate to be level at the break.
The Loons led in shots (15-3), shots on goal (3-1), possession (52%), and passing accuracy (84%-80%). Orlando was second best all over the pitch and Nani wasn’t able to influence the match at all. In fact, he was part of the problem, with only a 68% passing accuracy in the opening half and even some of the passes that were accurate put his teammates into a bad spot as they were already closed down when they received it and were dispossessed easily.
Pereyra entered the game at halftime in place of Robinho and took Nani’s spot in the middle, pushing the captain out to the wing, where he immediately looked more comfortable. Just two minutes after the break he sent in a dangerous cross that Opara got a foot on to prevent a good scoring chance. Another cross in from Nani found Dwyer two minutes later but the ball bounced just in front of the striker on a brutal area of the field and the striker couldn’t bring it in. The pitch in front of the “Wonderwall” was coming up all night.
Gregus was invited to shoot from 30+ yards away a couple of times around the hour mark and he obliged, sending one right at Rowe and another well wide of the target.
Rowe made his best save of the night in the 65th minute. A Romain Metanire cross deflected perfectly into the path of second-half sub Robin Lod, who got all of the ball on his shot and Rowe went down with one hand to knock it away.
Akindele, who came in for Dwyer, could have been in on goal in the 66th but he checked up his run for some reason and was eventually dispossessed. But two minutes later, he made up for that decision with an excellent ball that sent Nani in behind the defense. The Portuguese star dribbled into the penalty area and then went down under contact from behind by Opara. A penalty was signaled immediately.
Referee Jair Marrufo consulted with VAR Edin Juresivic but did not go to the monitor himself. There looked to be no clear and obvious error and Opara was curiously shown a yellow card, even though he was the last defender and Nani was denied a scoring opportunity. While the rule changed in recent years to award a yellow instead of a red for many DOGSO opportunities, the rule does state that the player should be sent off if the infraction is for holding, pulling, or pushing. Opara’s foul appeared to be the latter with a forearm to the back.
Nevertheless, the captain calmly stepped to the spot in the 70th minute and beat Mannone, who guessed correctly but there was too much quality on the shot.
It was Nani’s ninth goal of the season to draw him level with Akindele for the team lead. It was the first goal the Loons have surrendered at home since July 3 against San Jose, after which they posted four consecutive shutouts at Allianz Field.
Orlando was the better side for the next 15 minutes or so, yielding no real threatening chances and keeping the ball a bit better. The Lions nearly doubled the lead in the 84th minute. Akindele got in behind and fired a shot from the right that Mannone was able to parry away to keep the score at 1-0. It turned out to be a huge save.
Minnesota finally got a shot off in the 91st minute when Danladi created some space, turned and fired well off target. But a minute later he got his goal when a seemingly harmless throw-in turned into an equalizer. A long throw-in from Metanire went into the scrum and took a glancing touch off the back of Opara’s head, causing it to slightly change direction. It then hit Robin Jansson’s body before deflecting perfectly to Danladi, who swept it home to tie the game in the 92nd minute.
It was the suckerest of sucker punches to the Lions, who were on the cusp of doing something only one team had ever done — take all three points out of Allianz Field with them as the visitors.
In the dying seconds Orlando nearly got a break the other way when a ball in to Akindele was passed on for Pereyra and hit Chase Gasper’s hand on the way through the box. A penalty was signaled but the play went to video review, where the replay showed that Akindele was just offside when receiving the previous pass from Pereyra.
Minnesota dominated the stat sheet, out-shooting Orlando 22-5 (6-3 on target), keeping 54% of the ball, and out-passing the Lions (82%-80%) but the Lions implemented their game plan. It isn’t pretty, but it has been mostly effective. It took a bad hop off of Jansson — who played a magnificent game yet again — for the Loons to level things up just when it appeared that the Lions would finally beat Adrian Heath and finally put together consecutive league wins in 2019.
The Lions return home and things get spicier with Atlanta United coming to Exploria Stadium on Friday night.